Going places, staying home : rural-urban connections and the significance of land in Buhera district, Zimbabwe

J.A. Andersson

    Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


    This book consists of four articles containing detailed ethnographic studies of people who are commonly known as migrant workers.Conventional studies on rural-urban migration and urbanisation have often examined such people in either rural or urban social situations,analysing respectively the consequences of out-migration for the rural society and its agriculture-based economy,or the adoption of urbanised life styles in cities.As a consequence, such studies have tend to reproduce common oppositions associated with the distinction between the rural and the urban,such as traditional-modern, conservative-progressive,continuity-change,peasants-workers,etc. Oppositions that,at the same time,present us with a common development perspective on the relation between the urban and the rural -i.e.that of state- directed modernisation.This thesis on migrant workers travelling back and forth between the rural district of Buhera and Harare,Zimbabwe 's capital, takes issue with such oppositions in our thinking about development.The studies show that Buhera migrants do not live in two separate -rural and urban -social worlds.Rather,it is argued that this migrant society comprises of a single cultural space,stretching different geographical spaces -i.e.Buhera society has to be understood as translocal.<br/>The method of enquiry adopted in the studies is best captured by the notion of travelling.Buhera migrants were followed both spatially and temporally - in their travels towards and within town,as well as back in time,to understand their history.As a consequence,it is possible to move beyond an image of a 'culture 'fragmented by mobility or moving between different - rural and urban -cultural spaces.To the Buhera migrants studied,distinctions between rural and urban social life do not seem to be important,let alone problematic.Not confined to a particular area,this society of migrants was understood as translocal,spanning different geographical spaces while at the same time constituting a single cultural space.Buhera as a geographical space remained nevertheless important,albeit not as the context of social life, constituting a cultural space or territory,but rather as a point of identification, evoking a sense of belonging.It is this 'being Buheran 'which the analyses in this book focus upon,revealing its significance for the ways in which people organise their livelihoods,thereby reproducing their Buheran identity.<br/><br/></font><em><FONT FACE="Palatino-Italic" SIZE=3></em></font><strong><FONT FACE="Palatino-Bold">Chapter 2</strong></font><br/><FONT FACE="Palatino-Roman">This chapter discusses the power of the state and its representatives to impose their self-produced categories of thought,arguing that this poses a major problem to the historiography of Zimbabwe,which has attributed the colonial state a dominant role in directing social change.Relying heavily on the colonial state 's own archival sources,historical analysis have often taken as unproblematic the relation between knowledge about,and control over, African societies as presented in these archival sources.This chapter challenges this hegemonic view of the colonial state in Zimbabwe,building upon the historical analysis of a rather marginal area.In the early colonial period the Buhera district was designated an African Reserve as white settlers had little interest in its dry and sandy soils.As a result of this lack of interest, historical sources on the area are largely confined to reports made by colonial officials.However,the reports do contain observations of local-level administrators that allow for a different interpretation of the state 's control over its subjects and its role in directing social change.Following the shifting biases in colonial policy discourse -from a preoccupation with the mobilisation of African labour to the modernisation of African land use -this paper shows how,with the expansion of state intervention in the area,Buhera society came to represent traditional African society.Yet,this image of Buhera in the 'controlled 'administrative order of colonial reports increasingly defied the reality of social life experienced on the ground.The historical analysis of Buhera district thus suggests a different perspective on the colonial state. Zimbabwean historiography has generally focused on areas that experienced dramatic confrontations between Europeans (settlers and administrators)and Africans -areas for which sufficient and well-classified archive material is available.Consequently,the role of the state tends to be overestimated, regional differences ignored,and the complexity of the African opposition to the colonial state oversimplified.<br/><br/></font><strong><FONT FACE="Palatino-Bold">Chapter 3<br/></strong></font><FONT FACE="Palatino-Roman">In the academic debate on labour migration and urbanisation in Southern Africa the persistence of links between urban workers and people in rural areas has proved a pertinent issue.As is implied by the term</font><em><FONT FACE="Palatino-Italic">labour migration</em></font><FONT FACE="Palatino-Roman">economic forces have always been regarded as a major determinant of migratory behaviour.State-centred perspectives have dominated studies of rural-urban migration in Zimbabwe,where a restrictive legal regulated migration to urban centres during the colonial era in an attempt to prevent large numbers of Africans becoming permanent town dwellers.This ethnographic study of labour migrants in Harare originating from the Buhera district,however,shifts away from perspectives that reduce migratory behaviour to an effect of state intervention and/or economic forces.Such external forces are mediated by migrants 'networks that encompass both rural and urban localities.Rather than being only economically motivated, individual migrants 'participation in these networks has to be understood as an expression of a socio-cultural pattern in which rural identification and kinship ideology are of major importance.Viewing migration practices in this way -i.e.as observable outcomes of migrants 'socio-cultural dispositions -not only helps us to understand better the preferences that motivate economic behaviour but also challenges conventional perspectives in which the rural and urban are often viewed as distinct social worlds and the urbanisation process as part of a wider evolutionary development or transition towards a modern class society.<br/><br/></font><strong><FONT FACE="Palatino-Bold">Chapter 4<br/></strong></font><FONT FACE="Palatino-Roman" SIZE=2> </font><FONT FACE="Palatino-Roman">Conflicts over land,a major theme in Zimbabwe 's rural history,are widely recognized as 'most serious 'in the densely populated Communal Areas. Pressure on land in these areas is considerable because of population growth and the segregationist policies of the colonial government that concentrated Africans on marginal lands.Land scarcity in the Communal Areas does not, however,mean that conflicts over land are always economically motivated.As the agricultural potential of land is often limited in Communal Areas,land cases may often be better understood as socially induced.This article on land disputes in the Murambinda area of Save Communal Land aims to elucidate the different meanings attached to land.It presents a situational analysis of a single case of land dispute and argues that land conflicts in the area are predominantly political power struggles.The litigation of land cases is dominated by village leaders (</font><em><FONT FACE="Palatino-Italic">vanasabhuku</em></font><FONT FACE="Palatino-Roman">)and largely takes place outside the state 's legal arena.Consequently,local state institutions responsible for land issues have a limited understanding of,and exercise little control over land issues.The findings of this study thus provide a different view in the ongoing debate on the need for tenurial reform in Zimbabwe 's Communal Areas,for they challenge the state 's administrative capacity to enforce such reform.<br/><br/>Recent studies of witchcraft and sorcery in Africa,have described this domain as an all powerful and inescapable discourse.The anthropological case study presented in this chapter,however,discloses a situation in which people contest the interpretation and narratives of this domain,and challenge its applicability.Focusing on the social practices in which the witchcraft discourse is produced,the approach taken is similar to anthropological approaches that have viewed the witchcraft discourse as a device to attribute meaning in situations of existential insecurity.In a society of migrant labourers working in Harare,but originating from the rural district of Buhera,Zimbabwe,such insecurities are all too real.Many people are confronted with HIV/AIDS- related illnesses and death -euphemistically called Henry the IV (HIV). However,witchcraft accusations do not become acute because of the AIDS pandemic -for which the 'modern 'biomedical episteme has few explanations or cures -but rather,are concurrent with it.The existential insecurities which give rise to witchcraft accusations in this society,originate within the kin- based networks which span rural and urban geographical areas.In contrast with contemporary studies analysing witchcraft in so-called 'modern 'contexts such as the city,the market and state politics,this chapter thus stresses the important link between witchcraft and kinship.It analyses which social relationships are prone to witchcraft allegations,and how the discourse is contested.Thus,it identifies how the witchcraft discourse is given a place relative to other social phenomena.It is shown that this migrant society the domain of the occult is not geographically localised -in a relatively closed rural society -but translocal.Migrants in town are not free from the witchcraft of their rural kin.<br/>The perspective on rural-urban connections and the significance of land put forward in this thesis,is of wider significance.In the last chapter it is argued that received wisdom about the role of the land in understanding Zimbabwe 's history and contemporary politics may be limited since -as was elaborated for Buhera -it is based on the common oppositions associated with the rural- urban distinction.The discussion,which takes news reports on Zimbabwe 's political and economic crisis at the turn of the 21</font><FONT FACE="Palatino-Roman" SIZE=1>st</font><FONT FACE="Palatino-Roman">century as a starting point, critically reviews two common discourses on Zimbabwe's history and current crisis.One,the dominant discourse,focuses on the rural land as the source of wealth and development.This political economy-inspired discourse situates Zimbabwe 's crisis in the</font><em><FONT FACE="Palatino-Italic">rural</em></font><FONT FACE="Palatino-Roman">economy,in the highly uneven distribution of the best agricultural land.It stresses the productive value of land.The other discourse,which may be typified as a counter-discourse,presents us with a rather different image -i.e.that of an industrializing economy in decline. Blaming the state for its economic mismanagement and focusing exclusively on economic parameters of the current crisis,this discourse is of limited use for our understanding of the current political dynamic in which non-economic values of land play such an important role.As the studies in this thesis have shown,the stress on the economic value of land has,perhaps,prevented us from understanding the socio-cultural and political value of land in Zimbabwe.</font>
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Wageningen University
    • Long, N.E., Promotor
    • Donge, van, Promotor, External person
    Award date4 Jan 2002
    Place of PublicationS.l.
    Print ISBNs9789058085535
    Publication statusPublished - 2002


    • labour mobility
    • migrant labour
    • rural urban migration
    • urbanization
    • rural urban relations
    • urban society
    • rural communities
    • sociology
    • ethnography
    • zimbabwe
    • cum laude

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